MANILA, Philippines—Like a rookie anxiously waiting for his turn to show what he’s made of, national team veteran Jimmy Alapag and mainstay LA Tenorio just can’t wait to lay their hearts out on the floor for the flag and before a likewise giddy hometown crowd in the FIBA-Asia Championship.
Good thing, Alapag, Tenorio, the rest of the Philippine team and the millions of Filipinos, also known for their unparalleled passion for hoops aside from their world-famous hospitality, won’t have to wait for long as the biggest basketball meet in Asia rolls off Thursday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“I’m excited. We have an incredible opportunity in this year’s FIBA-Asia. Just trying to get there,” the point guard and team captain Alapag, perhaps one of the most battle-tested players in the squad when it comes to international play, told INQUIRER.net Wednesday night during the 27th FIBA-Asia’s official launch at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City. “It’s going to be a long, tough and challenging 11-12 days ahead.”
“Very excited but at the same time, we’re really focused. We hardly joke around anymore unlike before because we know that this is it,” said Tenorio. “This is what we’re really preparing for for the past months. We’re ready.”
The Philippines, which hosts the event for the first time since 1973, will shoot for one of the three slots to qualify for next year’s basketball World Cup in Spain.
Defending champion China, Iran and South Korea are the obvious teams to watch out for but Jordan and Chinese Taipei are also not to be overlooked, said Alapag, who led the oath of sportsmanship at the Gala event attended by all the participating athletes and coaches and distinguished guests such as business tycoon and Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny V. Pangilinan.
“They (Chinese Taipei and Jordan) have proven to be tough in past FIBA-Asia tournaments so this year will be nothing less.”
Jordan will be without some of its key players including the six-foot-six guardSam Daghles, a matchup problem for most with his size and versatility, due to an injury but the team’s size can still pose a threat to the Philippines.
Chinese Taipei, on the other hand, will still have the services of its long-haired big man Wen-Ting Tseng along with its lengthy and hot-shooting wing players.
Despite the daunting task, the Talk ‘N Text playmaker, driven as always, said that the team is “confident to get out there and get the job done.”
“First up is tomorrow night (Thursday), so that’s all our focus right now.”
The Philippines gets its campaign going against lightweight Saudi Arabia at 8:30 p.m. before testing its mettle as it clashes with Jordan Friday night.